Freshman Ellenson could still make an impact

Gophers freshman Wally Ellenson made his college debut Tuesday, to the surprise of many.

MINNEAPOLIS — So much for that redshirt.

Gophers freshman Wally Ellenson made his college basketball debut Tuesday, checking into the game against North Dakota State with 3:44 left in the second half. There was speculation that Ellenson would redshirt after breaking his hand in late October, but he's no longer eligible for a redshirt season since he played in Tuesday's 70-57 win against the Bison.

Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith met with Ellenson's parents before Tuesday's game. They agreed that it would be best for Ellenson to play now, rather than sit out an entire year and begin his career next season.

"He wanted to play," Smith said. "His parents felt comfortable with him playing. I think he can be helpful. I think he can be a big help."

Ellenson, a 6-foot-4 guard from Rice Lake, Wis., scored his first career point on his second free throw attempt of the night. He also had one turnover and missed his only field goal attempt — a three-pointer from way downtown as the shot clock expired.

"He was a little nervous today," Smith said. "We put him in there very late in the game, and the game was still in the balance. … You could tell he was a little nervous. He fumbled it. But he's going to be a good player for us."

Now that the Gophers have taken the redshirt off Ellenson, the question is how they will use him. Already a Top 20 team without Ellenson's services, Minnesota can now add Ellenson's shooting touch.

As a senior last year at Rice Lake High School, Ellenson averaged 20.1 points and 8.9 rebounds as he helped his team to a 24-2 record. Now, he jumps into the mix on a deep, talented Gophers team that entered Tuesday's game ranked No. 13 in the country.

"He looked different out there without the practice uniform on," senior Rodney Williams said of Ellenson. "It's definitely good to see Wally out there. He's been waiting a long time and he finally got a chance. Hopefully we'll see him more."

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